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Homicide Rate On Decline in City as Early Results Show CIRV's Impact

The Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence – an effort that is drawing substantially on the expertise in UC's Division of Criminal Justice – is seeing promising early returns from its new approach to stopping senseless youth violence on city streets, and soon will be expanding its reach to other Ohio cities and even to Europe.

Date: 4/9/2008 3:00:00 PM
By: Carey Hoffman
Phone: (513) 556-1825

UC ingot   Early results are showing, as hoped, that the expertise contained within UC’s Division of Criminal Justice is impacting the battle to decrease gun violence within the city of Cincinnati.

Soon, that knowledge may benefit other communities, both in our region and as far away as the United Kingdom.

Faculty and graduate students from within UC Criminal Justice have joined with law enforcement, political, medical and community leaders from across the area in creating CIRV – the Cincinnati Initiative to Reduce Violence.

Since CIRV gained funding from the City of Cincinnati last year and then began actively seeking to intervene in the city last August, homicides are down significantly, according to Associate Professor of Criminal Justice Robin Engel, who is leading UC’s participation in CIRV.

Engel made a presentation describing CIRV’s work at the most recent UC Board of Trustees meeting. Here are key indicators so far:

  • Homicides in Cincinnati in 2007 were down 24 percent from 2006 – a year when Cincinnati saw a record 89 murders.

  • The overall trend is continuing in 2008. Last year at this time, there had been 22 homicides recorded within Cincinnati. By comparison, this year the total is just 12.

  • Murders are down an impressive 61 percent over the last six months among the targeted population (i.e., violent group members) that CIRV seeks to reach.

The message is clear, Engel told the UC board: "The violence in our city, on our streets, can be reduced."

Reducing urban violence has been a challenge that criminologists and law enforcement leaders have long grappled with. Cincinnati’s plan employs a focused deterrence approach at its core, similar to what is famously known as the Boston Gun Project, and then augments it with initiatives specifically designed to address the realities in Cincinnati.

The concept is to focus on small groups in neighborhoods around the city that police intelligence and arrest records show are most at-risk for being involved in homicides, either as a perpetrator or a victim. The majority of shootings, research shows, result from disputes among these groups.

Homicides since July 2006 are charted, with those involving members of at-risk groups seen in red. The vertical lines represent the timing of the two group call-in sessions.

Working with the data, the UC researchers were able to identify 69 small groups across the city. Overall, they encompass about 800 – 1,000 members and, Engel says, CIRV knows who 702 of those people are by name. "There’s a surgical precision associated with this effort," she says, "rather than a blanket approach."

Additional research showed that these at-risk groups, which make up just 0.3 percent of the population in the city, have been involved in 73.5 percent of recent homicides leading up to the launch of CIRV.

CIRV uses "call-in" sessions as a starting point. Members of those at-risk groups who are on parole or probation are required to report to the county courthouse where they are given a specific message: the community insists the violence must stop.

If a new shooting incident does occur and their group is found to be involved, call-in participants are used to spread the message that the entire group will be held responsible and law enforcement will crack down on all members for any criminal activity they may engage in. But an alternative path is also offered – for those who are looking to escape the "street life," coordinated support services from social agencies are made available.

So far, 176 violent group members are actively engaged in these services. That’s a much higher rate than any other city where similar approaches have been tried, and another important indicator that CIRV is succeeding.

"We’re helping the community to find its moral voice," says Engel. "The message is that this violence will no longer be tolerated in our city."

The message is not only being heard just within Cincinnati. CIRV’s approach is already being adopted by other communities.

Within recent weeks, Engel has met with Hamilton County Commissioner David Pepper to discuss the possibility of crafting a similar plan for dealing with youth violence in communities around the rest of Hamilton County. Another interested party has been the State of Ohio, which has contracted with UC Criminal Justice to introduce CIRV-like programs in eight additional urban areas around the state. Engel and her team recently conducted a two-day training seminar in Richfield, Ohio, attended by nearly 100 leaders from Ohio cities, including Cleveland’s mayor and police chief.

The CIRV team has also hosted visitors from law enforcement agencies in London, England, and Glasgow, Scotland. Those groups will also be employing the principles behind CIRV in their anti-violence efforts at home.